Nov 08

This blog is moving

projectYM.com logo

projectYM.com logo

A few months ago, I heard about this great new initiative to combine a bunch of Catholic youth ministry blogs under one roof. Well the launch was Thursday November 7th, yesterday. I usually blog once a week near the beginning of the week but I delayed a great post I already wrote to appear right after the launch.

For the first few months this domain (22Catholic.com) will simply redirect you over there. After a few months, that will stop when I stop paying the domain fees.

I’ll be shortening my blog name to #22Catholic since the whole title above doesn’t match adding “ProjectYM.com” branding. I think this adds a second meaning: Catholicism for those under 22 (even though I’m a little older); that is what Youth Ministry focuses on.

With just under 18,000 views, I guess I’m transferring this blog a little shy of my 20,000 goal.

Please keep this in your prayers. Join us at ProjectYM.com and see my new blog along with about a dozen other Catholic youth ministry bloggers.

Oct 28

We Don’t Live a Gospel of Sin Management

Should we just stop sinning?

Should we just stop sinning?

There were once two evil brothers. They were rich, and used their money to keep their evil ways from the public eye. They even attended church, and appeared to be perfect Christians.

Then, their pastor switched. Not only could the new pastor see right through the brothers’ deception, but he also spoke well and true, and the parish grew. A fund-raising campaign began to build a new extension on the church.

All of a sudden, one of the brothers died. The remaining brother sought out the new pastor the day before the funeral and handed him a check for the amount needed to finish paying for the extension. “I have only one condition,” he said. “At the funeral, you must say my brother was a saint.” The pastor gave his word, and deposited the check.

The next day, at the funeral, the pastor did not hold back. “He was an evil man,” he said. “He cheated and stole.” “ He wasn’t faithful to his wife and abused his family.” After going on like this, he finally concluded, “But, compared to his brother, he was a SAINT.”

We all want to be called saints but not THAT way. St Paul talks about the struggle to become a saint. Let’s read a few interesting lines: “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want… So, then, I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand.”

How often are we like St Paul; we fail to do good and instead do evil.

Evil seems to overwhelm us; yet if the devil appeared as he really is, I doubt any of us would fall for his tricks. I think we can begin this article by asking two very simple questions: First, what makes something a sin? Second, what is our goal as Christians?

So often we confuse these to questions. We think that the goal of every Christian is simply to be free from sin. I think such an attitude is absolutely destructive of Christianity; Dallas Willard criticizes both conservative and liberal Christians for falling into what he calls the “Gospel of sin management.” We need to understand the differences between the true Gospel and that of sin management. I propose that we first examine what the Gospel of sin management consists of, then compare it to the real Gospel, and conclude with some ways we can escape from sin management into the true Gospel.

Before continuing I want to mention that this blog post is a slightly modified version of the homily I gave on Friday October 25th before the Faith of Our Fathers banquet in Regina, Saskatchewan; hence references to certain readings.

sin-managementThe Gospel of Sin Management

There are 2 essential doctrines of the false Gospel of Sin Management: the empty alliance that lets you in, and the focus on sin.

The idea of an “empty alliance” may not be clear. Imagine a basketball team that let you play even if you weighed 400 pounds and couldn’t shoot. Or imagine a teacher who gave you 100% just for showing up, even if you chatted all through class. Those would be empty alliances. They have no real value because they don’t demand anything of you.

How many of you have heard one of the Protestant groups who after a 1-hour sermon asks you to come forward and accept faith in Jesus to be saved. This is an empty alliance because nothing is expected of you. We can fall into the same empty alliance by simply focusing on who says “Catholic” on a parish survey or sends their kids to a Catholic school. Nothing is demanded of them so the Gospel is irrelevant in their lives.

The other dogma of the Gospel of sin management is like the name suggests: SIN management. According to this Gospel, the goal of all we do as Christians is about sin, either avoiding it or managing it by good works and confession, or explaining it away. This reduces Christianity to a series of don’ts: don’t steal, don’t hit your brother, don’t do drugs, and don’t forget your homework. Who wants to follow something that just says “don’t.”

In reality we usually say “no” because we’ve already said “yes”: You might say “no” to tickets to your favorite team because you already said “yes” to an anniversary dinner with your wife; You might say “no” to a girl who wants to do something you know you shouldn’t because you’ve already said “yes” to your family’s and Jesus’ love; Or you might say “no” to weed because you’ve said “yes” to being on the basketball team. It’s a lot harder to say “no” without previously saying “yes” to something opposed to it. Michael Manhardt (from One Strong Family who was the keynote at the event) will teach us about FAMILY (Forget About Me, I Love You) tonight; I can only forget about me after I love you.

The Gospel of Sin management focuses on the no’s not the yes’s.

The Two Gospels Compared

Let’s compare this Gospel of sin management with the true gospel. We’ll just focus on key differences; otherwise, we’d be here all night. The biggest differences are the ideal and the heart.

jesus-came-to-destroyThe result of the Gospel of sin management is minimalism. Its model is abstract not Christ. When you go to Rome, you can see the Pietà: possibly the most beautiful statue ever carved. People will comment on how Michelangelo worked his chisel, how he positioned the figures, or how he polished the statue; nobody says “this is great because it isn’t made of silly putty.”

Or take a saint, any saint you like and examine his life. I’ll take John Paul II: he preached man’s dignity when communists denied it by force, he taught theology of the body against the sexual revolution, and he brought all the young people together for the biggest festivals in history. Nobody says he’s a saint because he didn’t lie or steal.

Since it is minimalist, the Gospel of sin management doesn’t affect the rest of our life. We can sit comfortably in a pew for 53 minutes on Sunday, we’d be mad if it reached 54 minutes, and think we’re good Christians. Instead of this minimalism, the true Gospel is demanding. Jesus says things like “Go, sell what you have and follow me”; “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”; or “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive … [among other things] persecutions.” Is that a Gospel of sin management?

Instead of minimalism, the Gospel asks us to “be perfect as the heavenly father is perfect.”

The Gospel of Sin management only asks content but the true Gospel asks our heart. The Pharisees knew the scriptures inside and out, they practiced every single commandment, yet Jesus saves his harshest condemnation for them. Why? They had the content but their heart was far from the Lord; they had hardened their hearts.

St Paul says: “The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not.” That isn’t ideal but he’s on the right path. Jesus asks for your heart. Jesus is not satisfied if you fulfill a bunch of rules, he wants you to desire good, that means desiring him, and seeking him out, with your heart. A priest who used to be in the Army explained the difference to me: when he was in the army, he could wish the commander burn in hell so long as he obeyed; but when he became a religious brother he had to love his superior.

This is a radical difference. You may not realize how radical it is; it is the heart not just actions.

Escaping the Gospel of Sin Management

The Gospel of Sin Management is common yet preventable. Let me offer 2 escapes from it: awareness of sin’s nature and a return to Jesus.

Sin is not sin because there is a “don’t” in the Bible but because it goes against the ideal Jesus presents us. We sin we are not like Jesus. Christ is the only measure of a Christian. Our sin is not measured against the ten commandments or the laws of Canada; our sin is measured against Jesus’ example. This is about doing good not just avoiding. We are called to be apostles not just nice dudes. That’s tough!

But we can never live up to the ideal. That’s why we have the 2nd way to escape: return to Jesus.

Only Jesus can give us the strength. We become like him when he lives in us. Today’s psalm teaches us this trust in the Lord: “You are good and bountiful; teach me your statutes. Let your kindness comfort me according to your promise to your servants.” Our strength is in you, O Lord.

Conclusion

If you forget the rest remember these 2 things: (1) Sin is not breaking a rule; sin is going against our ideal Jesus Christ, and (2) We can only live up to that ideal with Jesus

In the Gospel we hear Jesus tell the Pharisees: “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Today this might be reworded: “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret iPhones, football games, and car engine noises; why do you not know how to interpret the words of Jesus.”

Jesus is not a minimalist, he does not preach a Gospel of sin management. Jesus presents us an ideal and then says, “Come Follow me!”

Hello_Sin_IS_RECT

Oct 23

Are Publicly-Funded Catholic Schools a Good Thing?

Catholic Schools Have High StandardsHow often do we wish that Catholic schools got funding like public schools? How often do we see parents struggle to pay for a Catholic education? There are a few places that Catholic schools are publicly funded. Now I want to use my experience of both realities to present the advantages and disadvantages.

I grew up with 13 years of publicly-funded Catholic education. Then I lived most of my adult life elsewhere. Now I’m back in Alberta and Ontario where there’s publicly-funded Catholic schools. However, to add to the complication, I minister part-time at the only private Catholic school in Alberta.

Let’s explore the advantages, the disadvantages and the challenges. Then I want to leave an open question for the combox: would publicly-funded Catholic schools be a good thing?

One obvious advantage is attendance. While in the US only 10-15% of Catholic kids attend Catholic schools, where they are publicly-funded, that number jumps into the 90s. It still isn’t 100% for various reasons: the only Catholic family I knew as a kid who sent their kids to public school was one who sued the school board for negligence in a daughter’s injury.

A second obvious advantage is that Catholic schools don’t express a class division or elitism. One of the biggest dangers of private Catholic schools is that can lead to an elitist clique since only wealthier families can afford them.

One big disadvantage is that Catholic schools no longer depend on the bishop. If schools are publicly-funded, the school board needs to be elected; in Alberta any person who wants to vote for the Catholic school board instead of the public board can. The bishop can ask them to do X but they can listen or not. Another way this happens is that parishes and schools are no longer linked so if the principal doesn’t want the local pastor to come in, he can’t.

The entrance to my own High School named after a previous bishop of the diocese (from Wikipedia)

The entrance to my own High School named after a previous bishop of the diocese (from Wikipedia)

Another disadvantage is that they are dependent on public-education standards. For instance in Ontario, the government recently ordered public-Catholic high schools to have “Gay-Straight Alliance” clubs and explicit sex-ed. My community ran a boarding school in Ontario and the government approved textbooks had such garbage in some places we would cut pages out to protect students’ innocence / avoid indoctrination. Alberta has not gotten to this level – the sex-ed class in Catholic schools has an acceptable pro-chastity message and isn’t too explicit. A side effect of this is that it is much harder to find space for a youth group because the parish school’s gym doesn’t exist.

A final disadvantage is rather hidden: when Catholic schools are publicly-funded, Catechism class becomes purely intellectual. This can happen in private Catholic schools or kids going to public school but they give more opportunity to help teens experience their faith through prayer, service, and community. Publicly-funded schools have “Religion” on the schedule between Science and Social Studies and almost necessarily treat it as one more class.

The biggest challenge is maintaining Catholic identity. This is a problem all over regarding Catholic schools but when they are publicly-funded it’s that much more difficult: the bishop can’t insure it, only elected officials and the superintendent can. This calls for well-formed Catholics to take on such positions (which requires that Catholics want them too). For example, the city board I grew up with, Calgary Catholic School Board, has been so-so in its Catholicism, but the board just south in the rural area, Christ the Redeemer School Division, is much stronger in its Catholicism.

Stemming from this challenge is whether it is better to attend a not-so-solid Catholic school or a public one. A not-so-solid school can lead kids to confusion: they will think this is the Church when it isn’t. However, a public school requires active adults to help form kids in their faith – and unfortunately may not be any better at avoiding confusion. It would seem that in most circumstances a public school would be preferred to a heretical school claiming to be Catholic. The question gets murky if the school just teaches a watered-down Catholicism.

In conclusion, I think publicly-funded Catholics schools are beneficial if you have well-formed Catholics to lead them; otherwise, I’m not sure. Whether Catholic schools are publicly-funded or not, passing on the faith depends on well-formed Catholic adults. Kids in Catholic schools don’t automatically keep their faith. Would your state be better off with publicly-funded Catholic schools?

Oct 18

#StJohnPaul2 Twitterstorm, Oct 22 @ 6pm Eastern

StJohnPaul2 meme 1John Paul II was the one who inspired my vocation to the priesthood. So many others were touched by him. Now Pope Francis has everything set to make him a saint. To celebrate let’s all tweet about Pope John Paul on his feast-day, October 22nd at 6pm Eastern Time (5pm central, 4pm mountain, and 3pm pacific). We’ll tweet for the whole hour (till 7pm eastern); if you want to keep going after, great! Let’s let the world know how much we love him.

In the past we’ve done twitterstorms at early hours but I want to get teens involved. John Paul was the Pope of youth (even his decree of heroic virtue mentioned this). It needs to be late in the east to be just after school in the west.

Here’s just a few ideas for things you may want to thank John Paul for: World Youth Day, Theology of the Body, defeating Communism, your personal spiritual growth based on him, his fidelity in all things, or his suffering love shown to the end. Tweet what you want. Just make sure you have #StJohnPaul2 as part of each tweet.

Let’s try to beat what we did for #ThanksPontifex for Francis’s first 6 months: #1 in the US and top 10 worldwide.

Remember that his canonization date is April 27th. Then he’ll officially be #StJohnPaul2 but we can still invoke him that way now.

Oct 16

Youth Group Member = Missionary???

RCMC-Girls-Summer-Program-2012-10This Sunday is mission Sunday. You probably didn’t remember that. Don’t worry, I didn’t either but someone reminded me. Would you call the kids in your youth group missionaries? Most of us wouldn’t. But do you strive for them to become missionaries? That’s the tough question.

I’ve been reading Rebuilt: The Story of a Catholic Parish and he talks a lot about turning people into disciples. At one point he even links this to being missionaries. They see their parish as completing the great commission to bring the Gospel to all people in Zip Code 21093. You probably don’t live in that Zip Code (if you, do use the “Contact me” link above as I’d love to learn more about this parish). But you each live in a certain neighbourhood full of people who probably barely realize your Church exists let alone that they have a youth group.

We’re called to reach as many of them as we can. This is being a missionary.

It is so easy to focus on serving the needs of the dozen kids who show up for youth group. They are right there begging you to. However, they are so often just consumers. Your mission, or better, their mission is to be missionaries to reach each one of those unchurched, dechurched, badly-churched, and so-badly-churched-at-the-Catholic-Church-they’ve-become-Mormons. The youth group can’t just be a pity party over how few come or a museum for the super-holy; if it is you’re probably wasting your time. It needs to reach those who aren’t there.

RCMC-SummerCourse-20123Each teen in youth group needs to become a missionary. They need to do something, something that costs them sweat, blood or tears, to serve others. It could be as simple as collecting money for an African foster child or serving at the soup kitchen once a month. It could be leading a small group for an hour once a week after school or organizing an event to teach little kids the faith. They need to serve somehow. As Fulton J. Sheen said, “The difference between a child and a teenager is that a child wants to be loved and a teenager wants to love.” Love means serving.

Being a missionary also needs to be presented in a larger context. This is the perfect time to talk about vocations. A priest or nun is someone who’s missionary 24/7 for life – not that others aren’t but it’s a different way. For example, I studied Computer Engineering before I entered religious life: if I had not heard the call, I would dedicate most of my time to caring for my family and designing Computer parts which is much less directly missionary than what I do now. Even some lay people become missionaries in their state but usually for a certain time period not life-long. There are many websites to help out with this call: the first I’d list is Vocation.com which is for those thinking about it;Vision Vocation Match is for those thinking more seriously but unsure of the community; and then many missionary communities (like mine) have sites.

I link to what I know best; a lot are directly related to the Regnum Christi movement which we legionaries are part of. There are plenty of others out there but if I start linking one and forget another, I’m in trouble.

Being a missionary is not just a nice plan, a cool way to operate, or an added bonus. Being a missionary is Christian life. Each Christian is called to spread the faith. Vatican II reminded us that this is the call of each and that the Church herself is missionary by nature. Just before the Ascension in Matthew 28, Jesus told us ALL “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Rebuilt has a bunch of other items that are important; it’s worth the read. One thing is the importance small groups. The main youth ministry I’ve done has been using Conquest and Challenge clubs which are built around teams (another name for small groups). I’ve found the groups are a great support and help teens step out of themselves. If we want teens to be missionaries, we need to help them start small in groups so they realize they can do it.

Before concluding, I want to thank Family Missions Company for reminding me and running Bloggers on a Mission.

What do you do to help teens be missionaries? (Tell me what you’re doing well in the comments, even if it seems like self-promotion.)

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Oct 11

Are we among the 9 Lepers in the Gospel?

The Ten Lepers from the Gospel

The Ten Lepers from the Gospel

This Sunday, we read about when Jesus went to cure the 10 lepers but only 1 came back to give thanks. It’s Luke 17:11-19 if you forget the story. All over the Gospel we read about lepers: but who were they?

Leprosy is a disease that eats away the skin. In the ancient world, nobody really knew how to cure it and you could get it through contact with a leper. Therefore lepers were shunned. They had to live apart. They had a hard time finding work since nobody would eat anything or use anything they touched.

In ancient Israel, everyone believed this was a curse from God. It wasn’t just that you were separate but everyone thought it was because God was cursing you so they thought if they helped you, they might be cursed too. So what were lepers to do? They eked out an existence at the edge of society forming small cliques like these 10 lepers. Just image yourself there.

Now when Jesus cures them, it’s not just a medical cure, it’s a complete restoration of life. They can return to their family, get a job, and resume worshipping God in the temple. They are new men. Yet the moral of the Gospel is that only 1 returns to thank Jesus. Why? I think there’re 2 main reasons the other 9 didn’t return: they didn’t want to admit who they were, and they thought they deserved it.

They didn’t want to admit who they were

In ancient Israel, even being an ex-leper was a stigma. We have 9 lepers who didn’t want to admit they had been lepers, and so they don’t dare return to the man who cured them. They don’t want to admit they ever needed to be cured.

Pope Francis teaches us just the opposite. When Fr Antonio Spadaro interviewed him a few weeks back, one of the questions was: Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?  That’s the Pope’s birth name. He responded, without show with “a sinner.” To say such a thing means that he understood that he needed to be sanctified by Jesus. Plain and simple.

You may have heard the phrase by St Teresa of Avila that “humility is truth.” It took me a long time to understand what that meant. These 2 counter-examples show us. The Pope admitted the truth that he was a sinner while the lepers didn’t admit the truth that they were lepers.

They thought they deserved it

Jesus looks each leper in the eye as he cures him

Jesus looks each leper in the eye as he cures him

Some of the 9 lepers may have realized they were lepers. They didn’t lie. Yet, they didn’t give thanks. Maybe they thought they deserved it.

Have you ever seen a spoiled brat? The kid who throws a temper-tantrum in the checkout line because mom won’t buy him a 15th candy. Or the kid who complains that he got 23% in Math when he didn’t spend 2 minutes studying. These people think they deserve everything.

Even though they were adults, some of the lepers probably thought that way. Jesus had to give them their due. They’d suffered so long with leprosy that they really deserved that someone should come and give them even some relief.

There’s an interesting trick question on driving tests: In situation X, who has the right of way? The answer is always: the law never gives right of way but says one car must yield it. Similarly, so often people ought to give us something but that doesn’t mean we deserve it. Men ought to open doors for women, adult kids ought to give their parents birthday gifts, a husband and wife ought to say “Hello” and “I love you” at least once a day. Yet none of them “deserve it.

How much more is this true of God! He has nothing he ought to give us. Even our existence at this very moment and the fact we’ll be able to get up after, walk home, and go to bed is a gift of God. We can give him thanks for all these things; and the bigger gifts above them. Mother Teresa gives us an example of how to do this when she says: “I am ready to accept whatever He gives and to give whatever He takes with a big smile.”

We need to be like Mother Teresa and Pope Francis. We need to be honest about who we are before God, and we need to accept everything as a gift. Each of us, myself included has some area we can improve here. For those of us in Canada, we have extra reason to think of gratitude this weekend because it’s Thanksgiving. I was reading a spiritual author, Thomas H Green, the other day and I want to finish with his words about Jesus and Gratitude: Jesus “seems to be much more receptive to gratitude than to complaints… thankfulness and trust are by far the best ways to ‘blackmail’ him and reach his heart.”

This is a slightly revised version of a reflection I gave during a Eucharistic Hour this Thursday. Contrary to normal policy, I wrote it all out.

Oct 08

12 Things a Catholic Youth Minister Can NEVER Say

Here’s my top 12 list of things we can’t say in Catholic youth ministry. I hope it’s enjoyable and informative.

john-carter-chairman-of-wapte

12. I never learned that in theology

Of course you didn’t. If you think that you will learn every practical detail from your theology degree, you’re dreaming. There is a lot of practical stuff theology doesn’t teach. THis is coming from someone who got high marks studying theology in Rome – it didn’t teach me everything.

Authoritarian Scout Master

11. Because I say so

This one is acceptable every so often, but it’s overused more than underused. Teens need reasons. If the best you can give them is this, you need to think about it and give them a better answer.

west20virginia20burning20couch

10. Father I’m not responsible that couch lit on fire

Were you directing the youth group? Yes. Then, apologize. You should be avoiding serious problems like this in the 1st place; but they still may happen. In one study, 40% of recently fired youth ministers had grown their youth group in the past year but ran into issues like this. Be humble.

Art - Mother Earth

9. Let’s begin in the name of Mother Earth

If you don’t know why this is wrong, please don’t apply to be a Catholic youth minister. We believe in God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; not some goddess called Mother Earth.

GrandpaJ-rocker

8. Let me tell you a 12th story about my grandpa

Your personal stories are helpful and can often be used but if they are overused, they get annoying. youth ministry is about teens and about Jesus, not you.

CaviarBaskets-main

7. Here’s how you eat caviar

OK, there’s the rare case this may work. However, so often we can try to do things that are way above where the teens are. You need to meet teens where they are. We shouldn’t leave teens so low but there are a million things I’d teach before this.

girlfriend-boyfriend

6. Me and my live-in boyfriend…

If you are cohabitating, why are you a Catholic youth minister? And if for some reason, you still think you can pass on the faith, don’t broadcast your hypocrisy.

praying-halo-328x328

5. I’m perfect all you need to do is be like me

You aren’t perfect. Besides, the state of life God calls each is different so some teens won’t be called to be like you. Third, the models you should give the teens are Christ and the saints; modern examples work but making yourself an example can only be used very occasionally.

Pessoa-Nervosa-Dicas-para-acalmar

4. Couldn’t you stay home and save us the trouble

If you don’t want to accept tough kids, you should stay home. Don’t tell the kid to. The Church is, as Pope Francis said, a field hospital for sinners not a museum of the righteous. If a teen irks you, try to help him but never reject him.

bonaveture

3. Let’s begin this year by reading book 4 d 2 art 3 q 12 of Bonaventure’s Commentary on Peter Lombard

I can’t remember if this number actually exists. For starters, the work stated has never been translated into English (I did a paper on it and had to do original Latin translations). Beyond that, you need to start with teens at the basics and not blow over their heads with your most advanced theology lesson. You should involve your theological training, if you have it, but it should be natural not forced and beyond the teens’ comprehension.

polls_hello_my_name_is_1405_798117_xlarge

2. What’s your name (to a teen who’s come every week for a year)

Know your teens’ names! If you don’t know the names of the kids, you’re telling them they’re not important. It’s OK to ask a teen his name a few times over the 1st month or 2 he shows up but if he’s a regular and you still don’t know his name, you’re in trouble.

EucharistJesus

1. The Eucharist is just symbolic

Never preach heresy; especially regarding core dogmas like this.  Jesus is really present in the Eucharist; this is central to our faith. A Catholic youth minister is responsible for transmitting the Catholic faith not his own opinions.

These are some whoppers that youth ministers could say. Can you think of any others that are even bigger whoppers? Have you heard any of these?

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Oct 03

Francis’s Interview and the Kerygma

Pope Francis Embraces Fr Antonio Spadora, SJ

Pope Francis Embraces Fr Antonio Spadora, SJ

I’ve decided I won’t read any more commentaries on Pope Francis’ big interview with Fr Antonio Spadaro, SJ. I read the interview and a few commentaries. Now people just try to use the interview to beat their ideological opponents with it or to critique whether his wording was most prudent here or there. I don’t have enough seconds before I die to worry about this. (I’ve read Francis’s 2nd interview with Eugenio Scalfari and it has other interesting points but I did find as much stuff to blog about here.)

Francis wants us all to say “YES” to Jesus and not just “no” to moral abominations.

This seems overlooked in most of what I’ve read (Card. Dolan and George Weigel being notable exceptions). Francis wants us Catholics to spread the Kerygma. Before I go any further, I know half of you are scratching your head with “Kerygma,” even Word auto-correct tells me it’s an error. Kerygma is the Greek word meaning proclamation and in Christianity it’s used to refer to the initial proclamation of the most fundamental truths of our faith as we can see in the Acts of the Apostles: Jesus was foretold, he is the messiah, he’s incarnate, he performed miracles, he suffered and died, and he is risen. That is the center of our faith.

Francis realizes that the central message (the Kerygma) is not getting through today so the rest of the message doesn’t really matter. If people don’t accept Jesus, the Church has little to teach. As the Pope emphatically put it: “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”

Several people have wondered out loud who Francis refers to when he states: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” Are their priests who only preach about that? I don’t know them. I think this is a general statement that has to do with 3 attitudes I find present in the Church and particularly in youth ministry. First, the only public voice the Church has seems to be on moral issues. The second is expressed on both sides: people judge groups or individuals on purely moral grounds and groups are set up for that.

Pope Francis shows the JOY of followign Christ

Pope Francis shows the JOY of following Christ

The mainstream media obviously blows out of proportion every statement a churchman makes on moral issues and ignores when he preaches about Jesus. I think the moral obsession in Catholicism often goes deeper: Just look at the Twitter and Facebook posts of active and engaged Catholics. I don’t know how to do a scientific study of them but being a regular on both, it seems a lot of Catholics spend a lot of their time posting on political and moral issues – abortion, ObamaCare, Communion for Nancy Pelosi, etc. – than on the fact that Jesus saved them and is their best friend. Unless we change that, the image of the Church we will present to teens is just that of rules and politics.

Extending this cultural attitude into individual lives, so many parents have only 2 desired results of youth ministry: no sex and no drugs. Many youth groups respond by being little more than drug-free, sex-free social clubs. I admit I even fell into this when I was a teen: I tried to start a youth group at my parish and brought up sexual issues right away. I know of a widely-promoted and widely-acclaimed youth ministry in a diocese I travel to (I travel to a bunch regularly) that is known to focus on “tough topics” almost every time. Or when I was a teen a travel youth group ministry came by and basically scared us away from sex – you don’t want to be pregnant or get an STD – to the applause of the adults.

Now what’s the problem with youth ministry focusing on no sex and no drugs? It is better if kids avoid those things, right? Obviously. But youth ministry is not a social service program; it’s ministry! Beyond that, if they don’t understand why, they will not have the internal strength to continue on. Nobody can say no for a long time unless they’ve said yes to something bigger. Youth ministry is first of all about proclaiming Jesus to teens. If teens don’t believe that Jesus died for them, that he loves them, and that he’s in the Eucharist, saying no becomes a matter of will-power. Saying no to evil should be an act of love of good.

The essential element Francis wants all Catholics to remember and the essential element of Catholic Youth Ministry is proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. This is the Kerygma. We should never tire of proclaiming it. If Jesus really touches our lives, we’ll want him to touch others lives; we won’t be satisfied that they avoid sex and drugs.

Oct 01

My Twitter Account Was Suspended

I had my Twitter account suspended for a week

I had my Twitter account suspended for a week

I just got my twitter account back after it was suspended about a week. The biggest thing I’ve learned is humility: life can go on without me and I can go on without twitter. Or maybe I didn’t learn the 2nd half; I started a new account since I was suspended. (You can now also follow me @FrMatthewLC.)

The other thing I learned was to follow the rules. I got suspended because I was excited and followed too many people one day. It was my own fault.

The final lesson is just how big a part of our modern life, social networking has become. I felt in some way like I was missing something, even though I’ve been tweeting under a year. Being off helped me realize that this is not the most important part of life.

Please pray that I will continue to use these means of evangelization responsibly.

If you want to find out more about social media and teens, read the 3 posts I’ve made regarding it:

Sep 24

Is Youth Ministry a Problem?

Marc had this cool icon of St Mark in his blog so I copied it. Since I'm into youth ministry, I obviously need to use the images that are the trendiest and I think his image is clearly trendy (I mean it's been around over 1000 years being trendy).

Marc had this cool icon of St Mark in his blog so I copied it. Since I’m into youth ministry, I obviously need to use the images that are the trendiest and I think this image is clearly trendy (I mean it’s so trendy it’s been around over 1000 years).

Over at Bad Catholic, Marc recently wrote about “The Problem With Youth Ministry.” His basic argument is true: a part-time underpaid gimmicky youth minister can’t replace the authority of parents forming their kids. Bravo, bravo!

However, I think he makes 3 key errors. He forgets the real relationship youth ministry should have with parents. He makes anything gimmicky bad and extends gimmicky beyond where I think it’s appropriate. Finally, he forgets another key factor: religious life.

He forgets (or downplays) two key things:

  1. Many parents are not formed so can’t form.
  2. Youth ministry or good parents is not either-or but both-and. In fact, most teens I’ve seen show up to youth ministry events have good parents and these parents want them to have an experience of Christ with other teens and other adults not just themselves.

He rightly points out at the beginning that “The home is the first school of Christian life,” (CCC 1657) but it usually isn’t best if it’s not the only school. (This is not against homeschooling except in its most extreme form where kids never leave their parents’ watchful eye: never play team sports, never spend an afternoon with a friend, and never attend a youth group. Even home-schoolers use these “schools” to teach their kids.) I think youth ministry is an effective way to help parents raise their kids by giving them a different environment that shares the same values.

His issue doesn’t just go to memory, he starts attacking anything gimmicky to attract kids. I think he goes way too far. His example of being too gimmicky is my post on how to use twitter in Catholic youth ministry. (I like Bad Catholic but I don’t read every post: I admit I found out about this blog post because I saw it in my list of “referrers” tab on my site stats and that’s why my response is a month late.)  Now maybe for older people, social media seems like a gimmick but teens are digital natives so just using social media to communicate doesn’t mean gimmick. I’m a little older but a bit of a computer nerd so I am too. I don’t see tweeting any different than posting something on the bulletin board or talking to a group. I do not go to modern mediums to be hip, in with teens, gimmicky, or any such thing; I go to communicate the same message the Church has communicated for 2000 years. The medium does not determine the message.

Marc may not realize it but I think the collapse of vocations is a large factor in the authority issue in youth ministry. Until recently, what is now done by the youth minister was done by religious who dedicated their lives to God and helping teens. These religious were imperfect people like you and I but the very fact of their religious consecration gave them authority. They could teach us about prayer. They could lead us to God. Now very few youth ministers last, even less dedicate their lives to it and almost all lack that religious consecration (yes, I’m the odd man out).

In the end, I do think Marc’s criticism does ring home with how youth ministry is often done. Such youth ministry is designed to substitute (not assist) parents; it is all gimmicks and no substance; it has no real authority. This obviously needs to be fixed. Most of the serious youth ministers agree; as proof my friend Edmund Mitchell (free plug for his blog) who is generally of my mindset regarding youth ministry commented “Agreed” on a similar post of Marc’s. One of the goals of this blog is to give that substance over gimmicks.

When I worked in administration, the priest taking care of our finances said “money is not the problem, money is the solution.” Likewise I say, “Youth ministry is not the problem but the solution.”

Sep 17

“Xtreme” gender differences

Lightening Reaction Xtreme: a shockingly fun game.

Lightening Reaction Xtreme: a shockingly fun game.

Lightening Reaction Xtreme is a different type of game. Two to four players grab a metal handle out of a plastic base and one presses a button on the base to begin. Spooky music plays while the light flashes red. Then it flashes green and beeps. Last one to press the button on their handle gets zapped with an electric jolt. That’s it. There’s no reward for winning except watching your friends wince at a little pain.

Only guys will understand this game. I’ve explained it several times: the woman all wonder why someone would even consider such a game, the teenage boys say cool, and dad is interested in exploring it.

I even played once with a kid well below the recommended 14+ age range. At first, I would press the button just a little early to get shocked myself. After 2 rounds he complained that I “wasn’t playing fair.” So, the next round I let the light change color, waited a few seconds, and then pushed the button to see him throw his controller across the room. Immediately he game back, grabbed the controller and started a new round. Mom looked on whimsically. The simple fact is that when I began he realized I wasn’t respecting him but I treated him as a lesser man who needed protection from this minor shock.

Experiences like this lead me to two questions: what are the deeper differences between boys and girls, and how can we adjust our youth ministry to correspond. Before that, I’ll briefly invite women into the man-brain to explain why Xtreme is a cool game. (Men you can skip the next paragraph.)

Men bond by enduring pain together. One shows that he is part of the group by enduring pain with the others. Boot camp, killer sports practices or multi-day hiking are great bonding activities for men. Boys will actually enjoy some pain. Boys punch each other or shoot one another with paintball guns to bond with each other as real men. Men get an adrenaline boost out of pain. I know this sounds absolutely crazy to you ladies since you get sick at the thought, but it’s true. This can be twisted into hazing rituals but is healthy at a certain level.

The differences in psychology and pain tolerance must lead us to a deeper difference between the sexes. Being a man or woman goes way beyond the mere physical differences or different responses. These are just signs of a deeper reality of being a man or woman. Being a man or woman is essential to who we are, it indicates how we express the gift which is essential to being human according to John Paul II. This internal reality must be expressed physically, through our body.

I think it follows quite logically from Theology of the Body (and even from the externally observable differences) we need to treat teenage boys and girls differently in youth ministry. Personally, I’ve worked a lot in youth ministry that is completely gender-separated with Conquest and Challenge clubs. I think that is a good way to respond to different needs but it need not be universal. If you run a co-ed group, I don’t think you need to split it up but when you do small groups, those almost always work better if gender-separated (at least that’s my experience). As well, boys and girls will be attracted to different activities; I bet if you organizing paintball and hairdressing one weekend, you’ll get two gender-separated groups even if you don’t require it. Realizing these differences can also help us build something that has both because if one gender or the other predominates, they will tend to organize all their own type of activities.

God made us man and woman. God did not make us generic humans and then add gender as an “extra” but he built it into the essence of who we are. Catholic youth ministry must respond to this. Our practice must follow our theology. Do you have some concrete ideas to help out other youth ministers? How do you respond different to guys and girls in your youth ministry?

Sep 09

#ThanksPontifex for Francis’s First 6 months

ThanksPontifex basic6 months ago we celebrated the last moments of Benedict’s Papacy by tweeting our gratitude with #ThanksPontifex. Now we approach Pope Francis’ 6 month anniversary; it’s Friday, September 13th. Discussing it briefly with a few twiends (friends on twitter), I thought doing another twitterstorm of gratitude was in order.

Last time we did a twitterstorm with #ITrustinU for the feast of the Sacred Heart, we got 7,760 mentions in an hour and trended #3 in the USA (so lots of people heard about it). I think we can beat that and get 12,000 and trending #2 this time. For the non-geeks, trending is an algorithm based on the number of mentions, the velocity (newness and growth rate), and who is mentioning it.

If we all tweet together, we’ll get #ThanksPontifex treading and thus tell the world the gratitude we have to Pope Francis. I think 4pm Eastern (New York, Toronto) would be a good time. For those of you elsewhere that’s 9pm in London, 3pm in Chicago or Mexico City (Central), 2pm in Denver or Calgary (Mountain), and 1pm in Los Angeles or Vancouver (Pacific). We’ll try to keep the tweets going for at least an hour.

It’s incredibly easy to participate. There are several ways and I appreciate them all:

  • Tweet #ThanksPontifex and some reason you’re thankful for Pope Francis at 4pm Eastern
  • Tweet a promotional tweet beforehand
  • Search #ThanksPontifex (or just click on it) at 4pm and Retweet some tweets from there (this helps get the word out and will help it trend.

I want to thank you in advance for joining us. Please add your proposed tweets in the comments.

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